The Wrong Side of the Bed

I would love to have a better day, but my feelings decided this morning that today would suck. It’s really my bed, you see. One side is pleasant, the other side is where I keep my pet vipers—and alas, it is on this side that I have risen.

Jon Acuff in soundtracks
Photo by Patryk Kamenczak from Pexels

Today is one of those days I “woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” It seems there is a solution to this situation. Just get back in bed and get out on the right side. If only it were that easy.

It doesn’t happen all that often, so sometimes it catches me off guard. I don’t realize it is happening until after I’ve snapped at someone or have gone down the rabbit hole of cascading negative thoughts. The land where a minor thing feels like a major catastrophe.

It wasn’t until after my morning walk that I became aware of my irritability and overall state of crankiness. I drew upon a powerful technique used by the best basketball coaches. I took a timeout to regroup. A strategic pause (Thank you, Juliet Funt).

After I got myself calmed down, I asked myself, “What is really going on here?”

What am I agitated about today?

Here’s what I came up with in random order:

  • I’m exhausted, not just tired. For me, being tired is relieved after I get a good night’s rest. Being exhausted, however, can go on for several days, weeks and months. I know many of you are not just tired, but exhausted from the daily demands of living during a pandemic. Exhaustion affects my spiritual life, emotional well-being, physical body and mental clarity.
  • My pet peeves are piling up. We all have pet peeves that annoy us. One or two at a time are easy to handle. But in a state of exhaustion, they can pile up and “get on our last good nerve.” My pet peeves set off a flashing red “annoyance button.”
  • My prayers are a litany of complaints rather than an expression of praises for what I am grateful for. Something subtle happens here. My list of “things I’m grateful for” becomes rote and all-too-familiar. It’s a sign that I may be missing some wonderful things to be grateful for that are right in front of me.
  • The voice of my critics shout instead of whisper. We all have critics and some days their harsh assessments seem louder than others.
  • My grief and anger at the senseless loss of life in Afghanistan yesterday. I hurt for the families of United States military members who lost their lives yesterday. It was the most service members we lost in a single day in over a decade. It was a terrible day for America. I also grieved for the families of the innocent Afghan civilians who were killed by inexplicable violence.  

Once I figured out what was happening, I was able to focus on a solution. I saw it as an opportunity to practice self-control.

“The fruit of the Spirit is…. self-control.”

galatians 5:23

I remembered my friend Leo. He was the custodian of the first church I served fresh out of seminary. He became one of my favorite friends. Every morning, without fail, he would knock on my office door and say, “Come on, kid, let’s take a coffee break.” We would go to the church kitchen, pull up a couple of stools and sit around the center island. There we would laugh, joke, talk about books, and solve the world’s problems. It was a chance to slow down, have a good cup of coffee and sit with our thoughts. I came to call this a “Leo Lifter,” because I always came away feeling better. Leo died several years ago, and I miss him dearly. But his impact on me remains. People Go, Their Impact Stays

Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels

Today, I slowed down, got a good cup of coffee, and sat with my thoughts. I let my pet peeves go. I thought about my upcoming time off and turned down the volume on my critics (Thank you, Jon Acuff). I prayed again for the grieving families.

Best of all, I had my daily morning FaceTime coffee date with my girlfriend who ALWAYS lifts me up.

I felt better.

And, I didn’t even have to get back in bed.

How do you handle it when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed?

Who are your “Leo Lifters?”

I’d love to hear your ideas in the comment section below!

Being Here

You love your phone. 

You hate your phone. 

I love and hate your phone too.

You love that you can call me anytime of the day and reach me wherever I am. I love that too. 

You hate that I can call you anytime of the day and reach you wherever you are. You love it too.

Our conversations sometimes start with, “Where are you?” 

I am here. 

Where are you?

We relate to a table scene author Rob Bell describes in his book, How to Be Here, “…if that phone rings and that screen lights up, she will be with you, but not be with you. Here but not here.”

We know we are important to the people sitting across the table from us when our phones are in hiding. They have their time and place, but this is not it.

Remember the days when phones, tablets and screens were not a part of our everyday existence?

The irony is not lost on me that I am writing this post on a computer that is a marvel of modern engineering. I’ll send it off on the information superhighway. It’s wonderful! 

We love technology. We hate it too. We struggle to find a balance between digital and analog.

We don’t want to lose sight of the joy of looking across the table or the sofa at a living person, created in God’s image, with nothing distracting us from each other. Attention is a gift we give to those that matter.

There is something special about picking up a pen to write on a real piece of paper rather than pixelated paper on a hard glass screen. 

There is old school magic in picking up an actual book, holding it in your hands and reading complete lines of sentences rather than pinballing across a screen at random. 

You are here. Present.

And we see you.

We love it when you are here.

Pay Attention to the Big Rocks

On my early morning walk, I was thinking about the “big rocks” in my life at the moment.

The “big rocks” is a term the late Stephen R. Covey uses to describe our most important values and goals. We don’t prioritize our schedule, but rather, schedule our priorities: the big rocks.

We can be distracted by the little pebbles that call for our attention daily: the social media ping, the robocall, checking sports scores, etc. Soon we find that the pebbles have filled our day and we have no energy left to tackle the big rocks.

So, we start with the big rocks first.

I’ve discovered that our big rocks can change depending on the season of our life. Right now, my big rocks are my calling in life and how I envision it unfolding in the future; nurturing my relationships that are blooming; my adventure plans for the next 6 months; and my continued growth and development as a writer. The rest are pebbles that I may or may not get to by the end of the day. If I don’t, it’s okay because I have paid attention to what is most important.

I’ve also discovered that some of the big rocks are more important than others. I value my relationship with myself, God, and others. My Christian faith guides me to love God with all of my being and to love my neighbor as I love myself. Those are the rocks that I spend the most time and energy polishing. The essence of any growing relationship is being one of the other person’s big rocks. Relationships die when they are no longer big rocks.  

Summer is a great time to evaluate where we are spending our time and energy.

What are your big rocks?

What are the pebbles that you are giving your one and only life to?

Getting clear on the big rocks results in a life well-lived and full of joy.

You can see Stephen Covey’s classic illustration of the big rocks concept here: https://resources.franklincovey.com/the-8th-habit/big-rocks-stephen-r-covey

Photo by Tina Nord from Pexels

When Others Throw Dirt

I have something in common with Taylor Swift. 

Yes, we were both born in Pennsylvania, but that’s not it. We both got a lot of mileage out of “shaking it off.” Long before her catchy tune rose to the top of the charts, I used the phrase to encourage others to keep moving forward.

I recently got word of a former church attendee’s death. His widow texted that he came back to church and heard me tell a story that changed how he lived his daily life. 

Here is the story.

Farmer Joe has an old dog. One day the old dog falls into farmer Joe’s well. After assessing the situation, Joe sympathizes with the dog but decides that neither the dog nor the well is worth the trouble of saving. A better idea hits him like a flash of lightning. He’s going to fill the well with dirt and bury the dog. Problem solved. Life will be easier without them around. He orders truckload of dirt to be dumped into the hole.

The dump truck backs up to the well. It lifts its back and dirt starts slowly pouring out, the old dog is hysterical. As the dirt is hitting his back, he does what comes naturally. Every time dirt lands on his back, he shakes it off and steps up. Blow after blow of dirt on his back. Shake it off and step up, shake it off and step up, shake it off and step up! 

The blows get less painful the higher up he goes. It is not long before the dog, battered and dust covered, steps triumphantly over the wall of the well.  He is out of well staring at Farmer Joe. 

The simple yet powerful lesson: When others throw dirt on us, we shake it off and step up. 

We use the junk they throw our way to our advantage. 

We don’t play the victim card, even if we have every reason to play it. 

We don’t ask why they are throwing dirt on us.

Instead, we choose to use it for our growth and self-improvement.

When life doesn’t go our way, we have a choice to let it bury us or let it bless us.

Shake it off, and step up.

5 Positive Practices to Keep Hope Alive

How is your hope these days?

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged us physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally and relationally. Our capacity to cope is being stretched to the limit. Some days are better than others. I try not to allow myself to get blasted by the news channels that spew bad news like an open hydrant. Our hearts break when we see people hurting and suffering. Our sadness motivates us to do something which begins by building a positive outlook.

Here are 5 specific practices that are helping me stay hopeful during this trying time:

  • Write it out

Some people use Julia Cameron’s morning pages tool, others use The Five Minute Journal, while others take a freestyle approach. Still others find value in writing out their prayers longhand. I have found that just a few lines a day helps me focus my runaway thoughts on gratitude and wins throughout the day.

  • Read positive books

Reading shapes our actions. Books by Jon Gordon, Shawn Achor, and Ryan Holiday help me see things from a realistic yet positive perspective. You probably have your favorite authors that are helping you keep the faith during this unique time.

  • Post positive verses and quotes

One side benefit of reading positive books is that you can take quotes that inspire you from your reading and display them on Post-it notes, where you see them regularly. Positive Bible verses that remind us of God’s presence and care remind us that we are not alone and serve as good reminders to stay positive in the moment.

  • Listen to uplifting music

The options are endless here with styles that run the gamut from classical to instrumental jazz, to ambient to piano to praise and worship. I have a few favorites in each category and I lean into them daily to hear the beauty in the world.

  • Watch

Our minds are fed through our eyes. Seeing positive things lifts our spirits. Encouraging stories can be found at SomeGoodNews and Inspire More. In addition, there are favorite old television comedies that can be streamed from the major providers that help lighten our mood and put us in touch with joy again.

The wonderful thing about being human is that we get to choose what we focus on. Hope is not a strategy, but it sure helps make our days more enjoyable.

I’d love to hear what you are doing to stay positive during these trying times. What are some of your favorite practices?

Memories of Daytona, Darrell and Dale

Panoramic View of the Daytona International Speedway by piresdennis is licensed under CCBY-ND 4.0

“…here’s to turning up, slowing down and cars that go real fast…We were laughing and living, drinking and wishing, and thinking as that checkered flag was waving, sure would like to stay…” — Talladega by Eric Church and Luke Laird

Life is all about the experiences that shape us. Life moves on quickly and we hold dear  the memories of the times we were happiest and saddest.

Every February, around this time, I am flooded with memories I’ve made over the years at Daytona International Speedway. I take a 200 mph trip down memory lane and relive the times I wished would never end.

Here are a few memories, some fun and some tragic, of stock car racing at Daytona:

  • As a 10-year-old kid I stood wide-eyed at the back Richard Petty’s pit stall when he came in for a pit stop. I was so close I could smell the burning rubber. It would be almost impossible today, but back then, we had pit passes for adults and when the guard was looking the other way, I snuck in a fenced in a restricted area.
  • Being in the infield in RV’s and campers with the Rossmeyer family and gang from Rossmeyer Dodge. Free sodas and all the hot dogs and hamburgers you could eat. It was eerily similar to what Eric Church describes in his song, “Talladega.”
  • My brother and I seeing Hollywood camera crews film scenes from the movie Days of Thunder where Tom Cruise is carried off in a helicopter.
  • Being freezing cold for a Daytona 500 race that I attended with my mom and good friends, Tom and Betty Thacher. There was a run on sweatshirts that day and they sold out in a hurry. I purchased long sleeved t-shirt in an unsuccessful attempt to stay warm.
  • Seeing one of my racing heroes, Darrell Waltrip FINALLY win the Daytona 500 in his bright orange Tide car. It was his 17th attempt to win and that day he was driving car number 17.
  • Going to the Twin 125’s with my good friend, Roy Collins. Roy was an extreme car buff and could answer just about any question regarding the cars in the races. Roy died of leukemia 5 years ago. I miss him.
  • A torrential downpour during the Twin 125 qualifying races that left me soaked and looking like a drowned rat. It took days to dry out my wallet.
  • Sitting in the stands with my mom as Dale Earnhardt slammed into the fourth turn wall on the last lap of the Daytona 500. It was his last race. As I write, today is the 14th anniversary of his death. NASCAR racing has never been the same since.

I’m thankful for the memories made and the new ones I will create. None of us is guaranteed our tomorrows, so we make the best of each day we are given.

Every morning, life screams at us to start our engines. It’s good to remember a place where the roar of the engines drowns out the pressures of daily life and where the fast pace of life is slowed by the addictive speed that is racing at Daytona International Speedway.

What do you live to relive?

 

What That Sinking Feeling Tells Us

2009 ZR1 Blue Devil taken September 2013

I had that sinking feeling recently.  As a Corvette lover, I was stunned last week when I saw photos from the National Corvette Museum where a sinkhole swallowed 8 prized cars. I stood on the very spot that is no longer there in September 2014 when I visited the museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  As a former resident of the Bluegrass State, I was accustomed to minor earthquakes, but not sinkholes.

I found several lessons in the incident of the sinking Vettes.

See things when you can.

I am glad that I took time to visit the museum when I had the chance.  You never know when something unexpected will happen that will prevent you from travelling or seeing things you want to see before you die.  This is an item I was able to check off my bucket list.

As I write this, a high school friend sits by her dying husband’s bedside as he lives his last days under Hospice care.  She is no longer able to travel with him to see the sites.

What sites do you want to see before you die?  See them when you get the chance.

Take care of your inner life.

I was reminded of a fellow Asbury University graduate, the late Methodist missionary, E. Stanley Jones who was quoted as saying about a church bishop, “He has much in the showroom but very little in the storeroom.”  In other words, he looks put together on the outside, but is hollow on the inside.

I had a happy accident last week when I came across, The Thinking Life: How to Thrive in the Age of Distraction, by P.M. Forni.  It came along just when I needed it. In the chapter on adversity, Forni points out that adversity “becomes an opportunity to show that we know how to live wisely, which means deploying our best internal resources…to face the challenges of the external world” (Page 140).

When the weight of the Corvettes pressed down upon the floor of the museum, there was nothing underneath to sustain the weight.  And so it is with us. That sinking feeling comes when trouble starts pressing down on us and we realize we don’t have the inner resources to cope.

Trouble is coming, so we mentally prepare for it.

Are you prepared for your next crisis?

Things are just things.

A Corvette is a magnificently built, beautiful machine.  So are Ferrari, BMW, Porsche, and Lamborghini.  But to put it in perspective, these cars are made up of wires, plastic, glass, shaped metal and rubber.  At the end of the day (there’s an overused phrase if I’ve ever heard one), it’s a material thing susceptible to rust and decay.

There are things more meaningful and valuable.  People and experiences, for instance.

The relationships with the people we love are what matters most.  The unencumbered  wealthiest I’ve had the pleasure of meeting are those who can say without blinking, “Yes having money is nice, but it means nothing compared to having people in my life.”  Given a choice, they would take the living, breathing people in their life over dead material stuff.

Who are the people that mean the most to you?

The sunk Corvettes will have a happy ending.  General Motors has agreed to restore the cars when they are removed from the bottom of the sinkhole.  (Read about it here) The National Corvette Museum will rebuild so we can enjoy the beauty of these fast cars once again. It will be a great day when all is restored.

In the meantime, I’ll be on the lookout for areas of my life that need some shoring up so that that sinking feeling is a stranger instead of a friend.

Another Measure of Our Success

Image courtesy of hin255/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Baseball is back!  This week players are returning to spring training.  Soon there will be discussions about umpires who are “blind as a bat.”  One notorious line umpires use is, “I call them like I see them.”  Seeing leads to a response: calling a ball or strike.

There is a life principle here.

We treat others the way we see them

Our most meaningful relationships are those in which we see the best in others, accept the worst and love them anyway.  This is the path to relational joy.  Successful people see beyond their own needs and use their resources to help others.  Bank account size doesn’t matter, they use what they have.

Their attitude is, “I will use what I have to serve and help.”

There is an old, well-travelled story about Grandpa Joe.  He and his wife lived in a neighborhood where there were a lot of school aged children.  Every day after school as they walk by his house he stands outside in the driveway waving hello and asking them about their day.  He is a gentle grandfather figure to the neighborhood kids.  He makes the kids day by giving out candy and smiles.  It is his daily dose of joy.  On days he can’t be there, the kids miss him.

One day Grandpa Joe has a new concrete driveway poured. Joe has another appointment that day so he is not there while the work is being done. The workers are just leaving as the kids are coming down the street.  The concrete is not quite dry.  Wet concrete and neighborhood kids are a creative combination.  The kids can’t resist drawing pictures and their names in Grandpa Joe’s driveway.

When Grandpa Joe gets home and sees it, he is furious.  He says to his wife, “I can’t believe those kids did this to my nice new driveway.  That’s it, no more candy and smiles for them.”

Joe’s wife tries calming him by saying, “Joe, I thought you loved those kids.  Those kids love you.”

Joe replies, “You are right, I do love those kids.  But I love them in the abstract, not in the concrete.”  (Insert groans here)

Demonstrate love

Love is demonstrated in concrete actions.  When we have an attitude that sees others as valuable and important, our actions express it.

Image courtesy of tungphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There is power in lending a hand to help people.  When we help someone, it is a win/win deal.  Their needs are met and we get joy.

I’ve discovered that my joy is greater when I have at least one other person in my life who is in my life for no other reason than to receive my help.  They can’t give me anything in return, nor do I expect it.

In return, there is joy.

And that is enough.

Why Settle for Walking?

Image courtesy of Tanatat/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I’ve been listening to Mary Chapin Carpenter songs.  She has a remarkable gift for crafting lyrics that paint a vivid picture and the haunting melodies to go with them. Her songs never grow old.  A song celebrating 20 years since its release is “Why Walk When You Can Fly.” The last verse says:

In this world there’s a whole lot of cold
In this world there’s a whole lot of blame
In this world you’ve a soul for a compass
And a heart for a pair of wings
There’s a star on the far horizon, rising bright in an azure sky
For the rest of the time that you’re given, why walk when you can fly

As I listened again, I was reminded of the importance of a hopeful, positive attitude that helps us get off the ground in our daily life.  There are many things that tempt us to stay on the ground and live mediocre lives.

But there is another way of living.  Each day is a new opportunity to rise up to pursue excellence.

We don’t have a choice about facing hurts and hard times. They are going to come to all of us in one way or another.  We do have a choice of how we deal with them.  We can nurse and rehearse our hurts until we become bitter, cynical people.  We can surrender the control of our life over to our pain.  We can choose to become discouraged and disillusioned, filling our mind with self-pity.

Some of us have tremendous hurts.  We have had family members, loved ones or we ourselves have faced:

  • Ÿ  Accidents
  • Ÿ  Arrests
  • Ÿ  Abuse
  • Ÿ  Bankruptcy
  • Ÿ  Career disasters
  • Ÿ  Death of a loved one
  • Ÿ  Divorce
  • Ÿ  Financial collapse
  • Ÿ  Injustice
  • Ÿ  Insults
  • Ÿ  Loss of our business
  • Ÿ  Loss of our reputation
  • Ÿ  Rejection
  • Ÿ  Sickness
  • Ÿ  Suicide of a loved one

Some of these horrendous experiences were not of our own choosing.  Some of our hurts are not fair and are beyond our control.  What is not out of our control is our response.  For some of us life will never be “normal” again. 

But hope remains.

Our attitude can turn a negative into a positive.

Every difficulty has an opportunity.

We don’t grow when everything is going great and there are no problems. Instead, we grow and learn by making mistakes and dealing with problems.

Today we look up to the star on the far horizon and we rise to meet it.

You can listen to the song in its entirety here:

In Sync Isn’t Just a Boy Band

Image courtesy of phanlop88/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Can you imagine life without a GPS?  If it had never been invented, we would still be relying on the old fashioned method of asking someone else for directions.  Or be left to figure it out ourselves.  Then again, as a guy, I would rather figure it out myself than to stop and ask for directions.

Recently, I found my GPS out of sync with the satellites guiding it.  The road I was looking for was the intersection 10 feet in front of me but the GPS said it was a half a mile ahead.  Out of sync.

Sometimes it is me who is out of sync with the GPS.  I usually have the volume turned off so I don’t hear an audio reminder to turn.  The screen is warning me to turn but I’m not paying attention.  Maybe I need a stronger warning.  Most of the time I realize my mistake after the fact and my GPS graciously tips me off in bold letters, “RECALCULATING.”  In other words, “You missed the turn, idiot!”

Early warnings are beneficial.  Being out of sync with our guiding system has dire consequences.

Warnings come in all shapes and sizes in our life: 

  • The little orange light on the dashboard of our car that proclaims “Check Engine.”
  • A caring friend who asks, “Are you sure you know what you are doing?”
  • A parent who says, “I’ve been down that road before, don’t even go there.”
  • A health issue that needs our attention.
  • A strained relationship that left unrepaired will lead to heartache.
  • A job in jeopardy that strains our financial future.

Here are some areas of our life that can get out of sync with our higher purpose. 

Our relationships with God, family and friends

A sign that our relationships are healthy is that we are growing in love and compassion for people. To be in sync with others is to have relationships where we feel connected and where trust is growing deeper.

Surely this past year we have been wronged or slighted.  We’ve been hurt by another person.  We have a choice at that point.  We can gunnysack our hurts if we want.  Gunny sackers are people who carry around their hurts and slights in an imaginary bag.  As they go through the year they collect hurts and the bag gets heavier and requires too much energy to lug around.  Eventually, it interferes with the growth of the relationship.  We get out of sync.  To stay in sync we have to let go of the bag altogether.  

Sometimes, it is not hurt that has hindered our relationships, it is the pace of our life.  We’re too busy doing other things.  We’re going too fast.  Getting in sync for us this year may mean slowing down and refocusing on the people God has given us who share the journey with us.

How we manage our emotions

I sat with a friend over lunch one day.  I asked how his wife was doing.  He said, “Well it didn’t work out between us.  We’re getting a divorce.”  This was a second marriage for both of them.  He said, “I had no idea it would be this tough.  We each brought so much baggage into the marriage.”  He wasn’t talking about suitcases and backpacks.  He was talking about emotional baggage that we carry around.  He was talking about emotional unfinished business.

This past year we’ve all experienced a kaleidoscope of emotions: grief, anger, sadness, hurt, discouragement, joy, fear, anxiety, and stress.  How have we managed those emotions?  Have we come to terms with them?  Are we at peace with our emotions? 

It can take some time to sort through those emotions so we can get back in sync with the present moment.  Time that is well worth the investment.

The ways we practice self-care

The number one New Year’s resolution people make every year at this time is to lose weight.  We have great intentions and we get off to a good start.  Other practices of good self-care are exercise, sleep and living within boundaries. 

Regular over eating and over sleeping can quickly get us out of sync with the rhythm of our day.   

The ways we think

For some of us, getting in sync this year may mean changing the way that we think. Our patterns of thinking can become so ingrained that we feel stuck in mental ruts.

Counselors and psychologists talk about reframing the events of our life in order to gain greater understanding and to see things in new ways.  A bit of creative thinking can be the spark lighting a fire that burns off the mental clutter and leads to greater insights.

What are some other areas you feel out of sync? What are some ways you get back in sync with your calling?

Choose Your Impact

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A new year looms on the horizon like the rising sun.  With it comes a new set of choices.  One choice we have is how we will impact others in the coming year.

Life has a way of forcing us to choose how we will impact others.  We will find ourselves in unpredictable and uncontrollable circumstances in the coming year.  We can control our reaction and try to impact others positively.

I was reminded of that once again this holiday season when I watched the classic movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey.

In the movie, Angel Second Class, Clarence (Henry Travers) finally convinces George that he does indeed have an impact on people.  Our lives matter.  We really do influence the people in our life, whether it is obvious to us or not.   So why not be positively intentional about it?

Some people we impact:

Our Forgotten

Who are the people on the edges of our relational world?

They are the people we pass by every day without noticing.  They are the ones among us we might not ordinarily think about in the course of our day.  They are easily forgotten.  They are the people who can’t repay us for our efforts to help them.  They have nothing to offer us except the opportunity to impact them for good.

Cal Thomas, a newspaper and television commentator asks, “Ever give a gift to someone you know can’t afford to reciprocate and suddenly realize that you have already received a greater gift that can never become obsolete, worn out or devalued?” (Read the article here)

It holds true for non-material gifts as well.  The gift of our time and attention can do wonders for the forgotten people in our relational sphere.

Our Friends

We take delight in honoring our friends.

The late Chicago columnist Mike Royko writes about a conversation he had with Slats Grobnik, a man who sold Christmas trees.  Slats remembered one couple looking for a Christmas tree.  The guy was skinny with a big Adam’s apple and small chin, and she was kind of pretty.  Both wore clothes from the bottom of the bin of the Salvation Army store.

They searched through trees that were too expensive, but then they found a Scotch pine that was okay on one side, but pretty bare on the other.  Then they picked up another tree that was not much better—full on one side, scraggly on the other.  The woman whispered something to her partner, and he asked if $3 would be okay.  Slats figured the trees would not be sold, so he agreed to sell both of them for $3.

A few days later Slats is walking down the street when he sees a beautiful tree in the couple’s apartment window.  It is thick and well rounded.  He knocks on their door and they tell him how they worked the two trees close together where the branches were thin.  Then they tied the trunks together.  The branches overlapped and formed a tree so thick you couldn’t see the wire.  Slats said, “It looked like a tiny forest of its own.”

“So that’s the secret.  You take two trees that aren’t perfect, that have flaws that might even be homely, that maybe nobody else would want.  If you put them together just right, you can come up with something really beautiful.” (From: Mike Royko, One More Time, Pages 85-87)

That’s what friendship looks like.  Two imperfect people who are perfect for each other and make each other stronger.

How will we impact our friends this year by letting them know how valuable and special they are?

Our Family

Family is closest to us, know us best and love us most.  Our impact is felt most on them.

In our hustle and bustle life, time with family can be the first thing to be skipped. The start of a new year is the perfect time to regroup.  Quality family time doesn’t just happen.  It is best planned out ahead of time.  We plan things that are most important to us.

We never know where our impact is going to come from or where it is going to lead us. The opportunities to impact the people in our relational world come every day.

What we do matters more than we can see or imagine.

What Do You Want on Your Tombstone?

Have you ever walked through a cemetery and noticed what people have on their tombstones?  As a pastor in Key West, I spent a lot of time in the Key West cemetery.  I found several odd tombstone inscriptions there.  One says, “Devoted fan of Julio Iglesias.”  Two of the most popular inscriptions are on the front of the same mausoleum.  They are, “I’m just resting my eyes!” and “I told you I was sick!”

This time of year we include a few classic holiday movies as part of our preparations.  One that has been re-told many times is “A Christmas Carol.”  The main character, Scrooge, is taken by the Ghost of Christmas Future to the cemetery where he sees his own grave.  Scrooge realizes that he has changed into a mean, selfish man.  He doesn’t want to be greedy anymore.  He cries out to the ghost, “I am not the man I was.  I will not be the man I must have been but for this visitation.  Why show me this if I am past hope?”  He continues, “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which if persevered in, they must lead.  But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”

Scrooge is an extreme.  We’re not as selfish and greedy as he was but there are probably some areas in our life we wish would be different.  The lesson for us is that there is still time to change.

If we change our lives now, the future will change.  We have the chance to write how our life will end.  We can make course corrections before it is too late.

Play Out Our Movie

Psychologist and author Henry Cloud calls this “playing out the movie.”  (See: 9 Things You Simply Must Do to Succeed in Life.)   Each of us is living out the  movie of our lives.  We get to determine each scene.  We get to shape to a large degree how it will end.  Wise people think about their ending all the time.  We’re  moving toward the final climactic scene.

When we play out the movie, we see that every scene is a link in the context of the entire story.  Every scene is a step in a direction that has a destination.  We can’t stop the movie, but we can determine what our life looks like at the end.

Playing the movie enables us to see the good things that can happen.

We have a choice in the direction of our lives and our beliefs and actions determine the outcomes.

The late actor, John Wayne’s grave marker inscription reads, “Tomorrow is the most  important thing in life.  Comes into us at midnight very clean.  It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands.  It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”

May it be so for us too!

How to Live Thanks Giving Every Day

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Emotionally healthy people are thanks givers. Thanks living is a way of life for them.  They focus on gratitude and the positive things in life.  Study after study has shown the benefits of blessing seeing.

As with much of life, it comes down to our choices.  We have a choice of what we want to focus on.

Here are a couple choices we can make to live thanks giving daily:

Choose to live rejoicing.

When the proverbial rug is pulled out from under us or we suffer unimaginable horrific pain, we still have a choice of how to attack the situation to get the most benefit from it.

A positive focus puts us in the frame of mind to see the opportunities that exist in the midst of the pain.

Critics will say that this exercise is just a mental trick.  Yes!  It is a mental habit that prevents us from going down a dark mental staircase that leads us to despair.  When we are in that dark place, clear thinking goes out the window.  Positive solutions are nowhere to be found.

Reframing to see the positives helps us get on the solution side of the tragic event.

Secretariat, the now famous race horse, was featured in an inspirational movie a few years ago.  It told the story of the Tweedy family who owned the horse.  Mr. Tweedy, the patriarch of the family passes away, so his daughter, Penny Chenery, (played by Diane Lane) takes on the oversight of the farm and horse.  Her husband and close family members urge her to sell it and move on.  She decides against that option and instead trains the horse to run.  But finding funding is difficult. She tries to sell breeding shares to the horse.  No one wants to take the risk.

In one scene, after many rejections, Penny is alone in the barn reflecting on what is going to happen next.  She is joined by a couple employees and she says to them, “I don’t care how many times they say it can’t be done.  I will not live the rest of my life in regret and no matter what happens we are going to live rejoicing every day!”

I admire her grit and determination to live rejoicing.

Focus on the positive because it opens the flow of joy in our life.

Don’t let anxiety pull you apart

This is easy to say but not easy to do.  We have legitimate worries.  We want to protect ourselves, our family, our cars and our homes.  That’s a good thing.  But it can be carried to an extreme.

You have probably heard the well-traveled story about the wife who always thought burglars were prowling around their home.  At least once a week, she’d wake up her husband in the middle of the night to investigate a noise in the house.  One night she heard it again.  She woke him up. “Get up! Get up! Someone is downstairs.”

He is overly familiar with the routine. This time when he got to the bottom of the steps he comes face to face with a real life burglar.  The burglar had a sack of valuables in his hand and was heading toward the door.  “Wait,” the husband said.  “Before you leave, I’d love for you to come upstairs and meet my wife.  She’s been waiting for you for 20 years!”

Anxiety can easily get out of hand and quickly turn into extreme worry.

Worry gets in the way of thanks giving because it causes us to focus on the things we lack.  We feel pulled apart internally.  Our emotions become like the salt water taffy machines we’ve seen on vacation.  Whatever is worrying us is turned over and over in our mind.

Focusing on what we have to help us deal with what is troubling us gives us the courage to face what life throws at us.

What are some tips that help you reduce the pull of worry? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

3 VIPs to Be Thankful For

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“Who wants to be a millionaire?” is more than a catchy game show title.  It’s a question that reminds us of a benchmark of financial success in our society.  We’d love to be millionaires.  But we know that money is not the only thing that constitutes real wealth.  We can also be rich in terms of our relationships.  The people in our life make us rich in love.  We are already relational millionaires because we have people to be thankful for.

Here are some VIPs in our life.

The Very Irritating People who help us learn patience.

It seems counterintuitive to be thankful for these people.  We just want to be rid of them.  We don’t want to be around them.

These people bug us.  They get on our nerves.  They whine, criticize, and complain.  They are the not so nice people in our relational world.

They have an uncanny ability to get under our skin. They are the burrs under the saddle.  We have our own type of person that irritates us.  A silly one for me is the person who gets 15 items on a 10 item express lane at the grocery store.  Were they absent the day the teacher taught counting in kindergarten?

These are the sand in the shoe people.  Being people who have a knack for rubbing us the wrong way, these folks are like the sand in the oyster that gradually turns into a pearl.

We need these people in our life because they help us learn patience.  Patience is a character quality that helps us succeed in our relationships.

Building loving relationships that bring us joy requires a healthy dose of patience.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Very Inspiring People who help strengthen our faith in ourselves.

Who are your inspiring people?   These are people, who by their words and example motivate us to live at a higher level.  They are able to help us see our potential so we can develop it.

These people can inspire us from afar.  People like Walt Disney, who broke new ground in family entertainment.  Chocolate king Milton Hershey sweetened the lives of kids by pouring some of his wealth into building an orphanage.  Former president Jimmy Carter inspires us through his work at The Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity.  The late actor, Christopher Reeve, showed us what commitment looks like when he made determined progress from a devastating fall.  NFL Super Bowl winning coach and NASCAR champion owner Joe Gibbs stirs us by not hiding his deep faith.

There are others that we know personally who poured themselves into our lives.  We are better people because they did.

A boss, a co-worker, a friend, or a parent could be our very inspiring person.  They gave us the gift of themselves to help us grow. They took us under their wing and showed us the way. They believed in us. They provided direction and approval.  We gained energy from their courage and maturity.  Our lives are different because of them.

Who are the people that played a unique role in shaping you?

The Very Important People who help us enjoy life.

The most important people in our relational world are our family and friends.  Our close friends and family bring enjoyment to our lives.  They are gifts to us.

We are thankful every day for them because we understand that they are here only temporarily.  We have each other for a season.  We enjoy the people in our relational while we can.

Our irritating person, inspiring person, and important person could be one and the same!  If that’s the case, we have three times the gratitude!

We can translate our thankfulness into action:  write a note, make a phone call, or send a small gift.

We are thankful for the VIPs in our life who fill our lives with love.

Restoring Our Soul

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I survived a technological crisis last week.  My new iPhone died. When I powered it on, I got the dreaded “No sim card installed” message, rendering my phone basically useless.  I used it less than a month.

I reluctantly bit into the Apple orchard of owners when my dinosaur Blackberry gave up the ghost.  With the advent of the iPhone 5, my local ATT store was giving away the older iPhone 4s for new subscribers.  Free is free.

I contacted Apple tech support via chat and walked through troubleshooting steps with a very friendly, helpful agent.  When the steps failed to raise my phone from the dead, I was turned over to another “more knowledgeable” (their term) agent.  He walked me through a couple steps and suggested a few fixes, one of which was to totally wipe out and restore the iPhone.  I followed the steps to a tee and the phone was exorcised of its demons.  It has worked fine ever since.

That got me thinking about the human side of things.  We’re like our gadgets in that we have a tendency to crash from time to time.  We get our insides all in a wad and need an internal eraser to come wipe out the crud.

Smart people I’ve met know how to build margin into their lives so when the internal wad weakens them they take time to take a step back to regroup.

Let our soul catch up with our body

I’ve heard several renditions of a well spread story about travelers or missionaries going to Africa in the 1800s. The message is still relevant in spite of its lack of factual proof.

The story goes that an American traveler was on safari in Kenya loaded down with gear.  Porters from a local tribe were carrying his cumbersome supplies and luggage.

On the first morning, the group awoke early, traveled fast and went far into the bush.

On the second morning, they repeated the first day.

On the third morning, they repeated days one and two.

By the end of the third day they are very deep into the bush.

The American seemed pleased.

But on the fourth morning, the porters refused to move.  They simply sat by a tree.

Their behavior incensed the American. “This is a waste of valuable time.  Can someone tell me what is going on here?”

The translator answered, “They are waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”

We could all use some time for our soul to catch up with our body.

I call it breathing room.

Apple calls it “restoring your iPhone.”

Reflection leads to restoration

Physical rest rejuvenates our body.  Emotional rest helps us process the ups and downs of life.  Spiritual rest reminds us that we don’t have to strive to prove our worth to a loving God. We rely on grace.

Clarity and energy are ours when we take time to restore our soul.  It’s as easy and as difficult as pushing our internal restore button.

What are some practices that help you restore your soul? I’d love to hear what works for you.

1 Way to Get a Grip by Letting Go

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I love the Back to the Future trilogy. There is something fascinating about being able to travel into the future.  It’s captivating because of its unreality.  We know life doesn’t work that way.

The unpredictability and brevity of our lives has its benefits. There was higher wisdom at work when God designed life this way.

Do we REALLY want to know the future?

How would knowledge of the future benefit us?

Gerald Sittser in his book, The Will of God as a Way of Life says,

How would it (knowing the future) help any of us?  On the one hand, if we foresaw that our future was going to be hard and painful, full of suffering, we would recoil, fretfully awaiting its awful reality and wishing we could change it.  But at the same time we would miss the wisdom and character that suffering engenders.  And if, on the other hand, we learned that our future was going to be easy and pleasant, we would become dull and complacent, which would only diminish our capacity to enjoy the pleasant future that was going to be ours (Page 29).

The irony is that we get a grip on life by letting go of our desire to know exactly what is going to happen in the future.

The uncertainty of our future allows us to value and celebrate the present moment.

 

The only measure of time we have is the present moment.  The past is gone and can’t be changed.  The future is not here yet and can’t be controlled.  All we are assured of is now.

We can become so preoccupied with the yesterdays and the tomorrows of our life that we neglect the here and now.  We can get distracted by the “if onlys” of yesterday or the “what ifs” of tomorrow that we miss the good things of today.

Our life consists of precious unplanned moments.  Spontaneous encounters with God and the world.  So we learn to embrace the moment.

  • Ÿ  We pause to watch the lightning in the distance.
  • Ÿ  We listen to the rain as it gently patters on our roof.
  • Ÿ  We linger over the dinner table with friends, lost in conversation.
  • Ÿ  We gaze lovingly at a sleeping child.
  • Ÿ  We read a good book over a cup of coffee on a lazy morning.
  • Ÿ  We stroll unhurriedly through a park on an autumn day.

Music, books, conversations with people we love, good movies, and quiet times of reflection open the door for being present in the moment.

Finding these moments varies from person to person and from one season of life to another.  But no matter where we are we can cultivate an appreciation of where we are at the time.

Watching children at play reminds me to enjoy the moments.  Their life is all about fun.  One of the best things kids have going for them is they don’t know how to tell time.  Parental commands to, “Hurry up,” fall on deaf ears.  Adult concepts of time don’t compute to a child.  They are completely in the present.

Today is the “good old days” we will be talking about in 10 years. Today IS “back in the day.”

We make the most of today.

We enjoy the moment.

We don’t know if we have tomorrow.

We don’t know if we have next week.

We live one moment at a time.

That doesn’t mean we don’t plan for tomorrow.  As Annie said, “tomorrow is only a day away.”  We plan for the future and leave it in God’s hands.

Writer Corrie Ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

That’s good advice for today… and tomorrow.

How will you enjoy the “moments” that come your way today?

Are You Running the Dash or Living the Dash?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m sure you have figured out that we don’t have control over many things in life.

The price of gasoline, who loves us and the winner of next year’s Super Bowl, for example.

Where and when we were born and who are parents are was not a decision we made.

We are born then we die.  We don’t get to decide the dates on our gravestone.  We don’t know when our time on this earth will be up.  It could be tonight, next week, next year or decades away.

But there is one thing we can control.

We get to decide how we’re going to use the dash between our birth and death.  Our date of birth and date of death are just markers.  What matters is what happens in between our birth and our death.

What are we spending our life on? Are we living the dash, knowing fully who we are and why we’re here?  Are we treating life like a dash that we are mindlessly sprinting through?

2 facts of life:

1.     Our life is unpredictable. 

We don’t know how tomorrow is going to go.  We have no guarantees.  We have no assurance.

The other day I was in an electronics store and there was a guy in front of me at the register buying a Nintendo DS for his grandson.  The clerk behind the counter was saying, “Sir, we offer an extended warranty on this product.  If you buy the warranty, and the DS breaks, we will replace it for free, no questions asked.”  The guy doesn’t want an upset grandson on his hands, so he says, “OK, I’ll take it.”

Maybe we buy extended warranties because we want some guarantees in life. We want assurance.  If something breaks we want a guaranteed replacement.

But life itself does not come with an extended warranty.  There are no guarantees.  There is no assurance.  Life doesn’t play by our rules.  It doesn’t follow our plan.

  • You had great investments, but a recession kicked in and kicked you out.
  • You were in the middle of college–but your first child came along.
  • You were never going to be in debt–but who knew there would be so many bills.
  • You have always taken care of yourself physically–but suddenly a tumor shows up.
  • You always drive so carefully–but that drunk driver came out of nowhere.

Our lives will never move along in measured, managed steps without a hitch.  Our life is unpredictable.

2.     Our life is short, no matter how long we live.

There is a fascinating website called http://www.death-clock.org/.  If you’ve ever asked yourself, “How long am I going to live?” this is the site for you.  There is a form to enter your birth date, gender, etc. and it will spit out the date when you will kick the bucket. It also includes a running clock that is counting down by the second.

According to the site, I have 8700 days left to live.  Seems like a lot but when I compare it to the number of days I’ve already lived, I realize that time is running out.

Our life is slipping away by the second.

Life is too short no matter how long we live.  My great-grandmother lived to be 99.  She was 6 weeks away from her 100th birthday.  She didn’t live long enough. I wanted to see her one more time before she died.

Life is too short, no matter how long we live.

Here’s a video from The Happiness Project’s Gretchen Rubin that puts it all in perspective.

http://www.theyearsareshort.com/

Live your dash!

What are some ways you have found helpful to live your life with joy? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Fall is for Dying

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There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die. ~ Ecclesiates 3:1, 2

While listening to Amy Grant’s new recording, How Mercy Looks From Here, I came to the  song, “Better Not to Know.” The lyrics, written by Amy and Cindy Morgan, caused me to stop and think.

We sowed our seeds
Watered with tears
Waiting for signs of growth
Took months of days
And then took years.

We took our steps
We took our falls
Somewhere along the way
We just got lost
And we lost it all.

But nothing ventured, nothing gained
The risk of living is the pain
And what will be will be anyway

Oh, it’s better not to know
The way it’s gonna go
What will die and what will grow.
Goodbye more than hello
It’s better not to know

Those tiny stems became these trees
With dirt and storm
And sun and air to breathe
Like you and me.

And some fell down
And some grew tall
And those surviving twenty winter thaws
Have the sweetest fruit of all.

But innocence and planting day
Are both long gone
So much has changed
And if we had to do it all again

Oh, it’s better not to know
The way it’s gonna go
What will die and what will grow.
Oh, nothing stays the same
Life flickers like a flame,
As the seasons come and go
Goodbye more than hello
It’s better not to know

Is it better, better not to know?
Is it better, (is it better), is it better?

The song’s backstory features 75 fruit trees that Amy had planted years ago on her previous farm in memory of her grandmother.  Many years later, some of the fruit trees are bearing sweet fruit that Amy finally got to pick from the trees.

The line “as seasons come and go” reminded me of the season of fall here in North America.  Autumn is associated with the leaves changing color and falling off the tree in order to prepare for future growth.

Nature has its own process of pruning and dying to make way for new growth.

I remember a graduate class where the professor had us write journal entries as part of our ongoing assignments.  One entry had us answer the question: What is dying in your life right now?

Up to that point, I had never thought of my life in those terms.  As I’ve grown older and lost loved ones who were dear to me, jobs, opportunities and time, I’ve seen the relevance of the question.

Here are some things that may be dying in our life right now:

Relationships

Loved ones

Methods of doing things

Passions

Responsibilities

Practices

Activities

Technology

Debts

Unhealthy habits

Unhelpful attitudes

What is dying in your life?

Let them go.  Relinquish.  Get out of our own way.

What has to die before you can experience new growth?

Now is the time.

Who Are Your S.A.F.E. People? (Part 2)

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In Part 1 of this post (http://wp.me/p3E32E-8z), I offered two qualities that our safe people demonstrate.  This post presents two more qualities.

We celebrate the people in our life that we can trust and with whom we can drop our guard.  We will probably have only 2 or 3 of these people present in our life at any given time.  As the song, Doubly Good to You, made popular by Amy Grant says, “If you find someone who’s true, thank the Lord, He’s been doubly good to you.

We need these safe people to help us cope with the realities of life.

S. A. F. E. People:

F = are Free to treat us as an equal.

Henry Cloud and John Townsend in their book, Safe People, say the unsafe people in our life stay in their parent/child roles instead of relating to us as equals.  Our safe people don’t act like our parent.  Nor do they want or expect us to be their parent.  They don’t try to control us or tell us what to do.

Safe people respect our right to make decisions and adult choices.  They treat us as an equal, not their personal reformation project.  They don’t talk down to us.

When unsafe people try to parent us they act as if we can’t make any decisions for ourselves about values, money, etc.  They give us advice when we don’t ask for it.  They are critical and disapproving.  They withdraw when we make a decision that they disagree with.  The relationship feels like there is this power struggle going on.

By contrast, safe people are not threatened by our differences.  They have their own standards, values and convictions.

Most important, they want us to grow in love and fulfill our destiny.

At its core, a safe relationship is about love.  When love controls our relationships we are set free to be ourselves.

E = Engage their empathy in action.

Empathy for its own sake doesn’t accomplish much.  We can feel empathetic towards another’s situation, but do nothing to help them.  Safe people shine when they combine feelings with positive actions.

They know that love is something you do.  It’s taking friendship to the highest level.  We see and feel the pain in our friend’s life and want to do something to mend it.

Author and psychologist, Alan Loy McGinnis says, “The best relationships are built up, like a fine lacquer finish, with the accumulated layers of many acts of kindness” (The Friendship Factor).

Gestures of love and acts of kindness bond us to another person.  They confirm that we have not taken the other person for granted.  Rather, we took time to think about what would bring them a moment of happiness.  And we acted on it.

Who are the safe people in your life?

Are you a safe person for someone else?

I’d love to hear your experiences with safe people.  You can leave a comment below.

How Wise People Handle Problems

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It is the smartest of times and the dumbest of times.

We live in a time when a lot of smart people are making astounding advances in medicine, business, science and technology.  A Newsweek article from several years ago said IQ scores rose steadily in the 20th Century, 24 points in the US.  “The rise is so sharp that the average child today is as bright as the near genius of yesteryear.”  (Read the full article here.)

It is also the dumbest of times.

Books with dummies in the title have become best sellers.  There is a book for every kind of dummy under the sun.

Have you heard of the Darwin Awards?  The Darwin Awards have their own website where they celebrate the theory of evolution by commemorating the remains of those who improved our gene pool by removing themselves from it in really stupid ways.

We know people who have done some really dumb stuff.

I look in the mirror and I see a person who has done some really stupid things.  All of us have done some boneheaded things.

We’re all in need of some wisdom for living, especially when we encounter problems and struggles.  I have lost count of how many times I’ve made a problem worse because I took an unwise course of action.  We can be our own worst enemy at times.

Problems are our ever present companions.  They are here to stay.  The issue is how we treat them when we meet them.

How do we treat our troubles, as intruders or friends?

We may try to treat them the way we treat an intruder in our home.  We build homes with the maximum amount of protection possible.  We have locks on the doors and windows, security systems, surveillance cameras and hurricane shutters.  We have protection systems that arm us against intruders to give us peace of mind.  We have 911 and emergency panic buttons so that we can respond to trouble fast.

This approach transfers to the way we try to deal with problems in our life.  Deal with them as you would an intruder.  Protect yourself, maintain your level of comfort, and deal with them quickly.  Intruders are not there for our good, right?

We can try to live as if problems are not there, but one day they come knocking on our door.  So what do we do when they come knocking?   How do we handle it when the doorbell rings and problems are standing there, refusing to leave?

One response is to slam the door quickly, hoping they will go away.  They hardly ever just go away.

There is a better approach.

Wise people learn to see the benefits in problems.  It may take them awhile.  They learn to throw open the door and say, “Come on in!”  They thrust out their arms and embrace the problem.

Wise people welcome problems as their friends.  This is so hard to do!  Yet, it is an essential part of wise living.

Troubles are opportunities for joy.

Struggles give us an opportunity to see what we are made of.

Much of our success in life depends on our attitude. I need to be reminded that I have a choice when problems come.  I strive for an attitude that says, “What can I learn from this?  What opportunities for growth can come from this trouble?”

When we seek wisdom in the midst of our struggles, we are not a dummy.

Live Full to Die Empty

My Review of Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day by Todd Henry

A disclaimer is in order.  I have been a Todd Henry enthusiast since I read his first book, The Accidental Creative: How to be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice.  His regular podcast is on my weekly “must listen to” list.  I was thrilled when I heard the title and theme of his second book.    I’m what business guru, Ken Blanchard, calls a “raving fan” of Todd’s work.  Admittedly, I’m biased not just because we share the same first name.

Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day is about how we can unleash our best work each day and increase the odds that we won’t regret the work we’ve done when we come to the end of our life.  It’s about living full so we can die empty.

What I Like Most

What I like most about Todd’s writing is his courage.  He doesn’t hesitate to call out the fluffy platitudes that we are fed in too many business and career books.  He doesn’t shy away from saying that success and our best work will require effort and self-discipline.  Those two things go against the grain of our comfort driven culture.  I was practically cheering out loud when he said, “You cannot pursue comfort and greatness at the same time.”

One popular fallacy Todd takes on that resonated with me was, “The Passion Fallacy.”  We are told countless times to just “follow your passion” and the money will follow you.  Besides the obvious impracticality of this advice, (How many of us actually do get paid for playing video games all day?) Todd points out that it is a selfish approach to finding meaningful work.  Eventually the passion dies down and we are left searching for a different obsession.

A better approach is asking, “What value can I add?” instead of “What can I get?”  When we pose the question this way, it correctly reminds us that we are not the center of the world.  We know that when we are the center of our own world, it’s a very small world…after all.

Challenge Accepted!

Another example of Todd’s courage occurs in the chapter titled, “Finding Your Voice,” which tackles discovering our unique expression of value through our life’s journey.  He challenged me when he wrote, “Great work results when you stop doing only what you know you can do and instead begin pursuing what you believe you might be able to do with a little focused effort.”  In the infamous words of television character Barney Stinson (Played by Neil Patrick Harris on How I Met Your Mother), “Challenge accepted!”

Todd’s writing tone is one we would find from a buddy who is sitting across the table having coffee with us.  It’s friend to friend encouraging conversation rather than top down pronouncements.  In addition, his stories are nicely balanced with practical applications and probing questions at the end of every chapter.

This is the type of book I can see myself rereading on a yearly basis to keep myself on track in fulfilling my life’s mission.

The message of the book is simply stated: “Don’t go to your grave with your best work still inside of you. Choose to die empty.”

May that be true for us all.

What Siri Teaches Us About Listening

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Apple is once again in the news with its release of a brand new iPhone.  I remember when the last “new” one was launched.  One of the touted features was Siri, the computer voice built in to the phone that answered your questions and was a techno equivalent of the imaginary friend.

Much of the time, Siri is fun to play with but not all that useful.  She’s like the younger sister that you mercilessly tease just for kicks.

Siri gets revenge

Alas, like the now grown sister or the jilted lover, Siri exacted revenge.

On a recent trip to the unfamiliar city of Minneapolis, we were using the built-in GPS feature with Siri providing the voice direction.  We used one map to get us to our destination.  When we left that destination, we plugged in a new address for the next destination.  This sent Siri into a tizzy.  Two map apps open means two voices talking over each other at the same time.

“In 200 feet take a right.”

“In 300 feet take a left.”

Which is it: 200 feet or 300 feet?

A right or a left?

Make up your mind, Siri!  (Oh wait, Siri doesn’t have a mind.)

Do you know how hard it is to listen to two voices telling you to go in two different directions at the same time?  It’s just downright annoying and confusing.

We finally figured out what was going on and closed the first map application.  Siri was happy again and we were too.  One voice to follow is much easier.

We have voice choice.

Every day we get to choose which voice we listen to and when.  Our choice is between the voice of negativity or the voice of hope.  Friends and family can be either of those voices in our life.  The voice of experience can too.

Our outlook on life helps decide which voice we follow.

The voice of negativity will try to convince us of how bad things are and how much worse they are going to get.  We all need a reality check from time to time to help us see things as they really are.

But, if we follow the negative voice we can find ourselves in a downward spiral, making it even harder to get on the right path to happiness.

Instead, we can choose to listen to the voice of hope.

It’s the voice that keeps us on the forward moving path.

It’s the voice that calls out the best in us.

It’s the voice that challenges us to take action.

Take a lesson from Siri.  When the voice of negativity tries to talk over hope, choose the voice of hope.

You will be glad you did.

“And this hope will not lead to disappointment.  For we know how dearly God loves us…” (Romans 5:5, New Living Translation)

You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Be Happy

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Several years ago I went to a local wholesale club to buy dessert for a dinner party.  I knew that my guests liked cheesecake, so I made it my mission to find the best one possible.  I was looking for the special kind with cherries or strawberries on top.  Instead, I found a variety pack of mini-cheesecakes that would allow my guests a choice.  They had an assortment of toppings like Hershey chocolate chips, Reese’s Peanut Butter cups and Heath Bar chips. Perfect!

I got to the checkout where I saw the man in front of me put a large block of greenish blue cheese on the counter.  He also had about 10 packages of something with fancy gold lids on them.  I didn’t know what they were, but the packaging was exquisite.

Just then a woman got in line behind me.  She was a snooper.  I saw her out of the corner of my eye, scoping out my cheesecakes.  But that didn’t last long because the gold lids caught her eye too.  She craned her neck further and blurted out to the guy in front of me, “How much is that caviar?”

He grunts back, “$56.00.”

Whoa! That made my $14.00 cheesecake look like a $2.00 bottle of wine. I’m a cheesecake cheapskate.  I did the math in my head and calculated that I was looking at more than $500 worth of fish eggs.

I gave him the once over.  He was wearing a refined shirt logoed with a little guy on a horse playing a game.  Initials stitched on the pocket.  Pants tailored to the top of his first-rate leather shoes.

He took his platinum American Express out his expensive leather wallet to swipe it.  In a moment, a receipt appeared.  With a flick of his arm he grabbed the coiled pen to sign it.  “This pen doesn’t work!” he yelled.

The young girl behind the counter said calmly, “I have another one right here.”

The guy grabbed it from her with gusto and scribbled his name hard as if carving out a marble monument.  When he finished, he didn’t hand the pen back to the clerk, instead he threw it down on the counter with more force than necessary.  He blew the air out of his lungs with disgust.  She handed him the receipt and he jerked the cart toward the exit.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to several multi-millionaires.  No doubt about it, having money takes away some of life’s worries and makes it a little more secure.  As one of my friends said, “I’ve been poor and I’ve had money.  I like having money better.”  Those of us without a lot of it would probably agree.

But if being financially rich makes us prideful, arrogant, ungrateful and cranky, is it worth it?

I’d rather be a happy cheesecake cheapskate than a grumpy rich guy.

How about you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

15 Questions to Help You Discover Your Mission

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Several years ago I came across the leadership teaching and books of Bobb Biehl.  He is a leader known for asking questions.  He says, “If you ask profound questions you get profound answers!  If you ask shallow questions you get shallow answers!  If you ask no questions you get no answers at all!”  I’ve found that once I start asking the right questions, solutions emerge.

Here are 15 questions that help pinpoint our personal mission:

1. What makes you smile? (Activities, people, events, hobbies, projects, etc.)

2. What were your favorite things to do in the past?  What about now?

3. What activities make you lose track of time?

4. What makes you feel great about yourself?

5. Who inspires you most?  (Family, friends, authors, artists, leaders, etc.) Which qualities inspire you in each person?

6. What are you naturally good at?  (Skills, abilities, gifts, etc.)

7. In what area or task do people typically ask for your help?

8. If you had to teach something, what would you teach?

9. What would you regret not fully doing, being or having in your life?

10. You are now 90 years old, sitting on a rocking chair outside your porch; you can feel the spring breeze gently brushing against your face. You are blissful and happy, and are pleased with the wonderful life you’ve been blessed with. Looking back at your life what matters to you most?

11. What are your deepest values? Select 3 to 6 and prioritize the words in order of importance to you.

12. What were some challenges, difficulties and hardships you’ve overcome or are in the process of overcoming?  How did you do it?

13. What causes do you strongly believe in? Connect with?

14. If you could get a message across to a large group of people, who would those people be?  What would your message be?

15. Given your talents, passions and values, how could you use these resources to serve, to help, or to contribute to others?

These questions take time to answer.  They take some periods of reflection and solitude to get to the heart of the matter.  But, the time spent thinking through these questions could be life changing for someone else who is touched by your mission.

What questions have caused you to stop, think and change direction?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

3 Benefits of Having a Life Mission

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It is:

Bigger than our job.

Grander than our role

More valuable than our bank account.

Larger than our To Do List

Greater than our failures

What is it? Our mission in life.  The words of Tom Cruise’s boss in the Mission Impossible movies: “This is your mission, should you choose to accept it” apply to all of us.

Our mission is the reason we are on this earth and why we are still living.

A mission statement is: “A written-down reason for being.”

Here’s why having a mission matters.

1. It helps us be “fully alive.”

Zig Ziglar talked often about being a “wandering generality or meaningful specific.”

Having a mission makes us a meaningful specific.  We know what we are about and we  connect with the things that help us feel fully alive.  When we have no sense of mission, we go through life weighed down by routine.  We’re moving through life with no passion or feeling.

Someone wrote the following mission statement where they took a few key words and wrote their mission statement around the words that sparked life in them.

Care

About the world
About life
About people
About myself

Love

Myself
My family
My world
Knowledge
Learning
LIFE

Fight

For my beliefs
For my passions
To accomplish
To do good
To be true to myself
Against apathy

Rock

The boat, don’t
let the boat rock me
Be a rock

Be Remembered

2.  It gives us the guard rails that help us initiate, evaluate and refine our life’s activities.

Thanks to Laurie Beth Jones for pointing out in her excellent book, The Path: Creating Your Mission Statement for Work and Life, decision making becomes easier when we know what we are about.

When our values are clear, we can make wise decisions about how we spend our time.

Mahatma Gandhi’s mission is captured in a short list of active statements. We can craft our mission in this style, starting each sentence with “I shall” or “I will.”

Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day:

  • I shall not fear anyone on Earth.
  • I shall fear only God.
  • I shall not bear ill will toward anyone.
  • I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.
  • I shall conquer untruth by truth.
  • And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering.

Consider Gandhi’s impact on the world.  He knew what he was about each day.

Decisions about what we do and won’t do flow out of a strong sense of our mission.

3.  It helps us be good stewards of our one and only life.

I want to be the kind of person my dog already thinks I am. — Anonymous

We only get one shot at this life. It’s said often that “life is not a dress rehearsal.”

Life is moving quickly.  My oldest daughter turned 21 the very same day my youngest daughter got her driver learner’s permit. I thought, “How did this happen so fast?”

We don’t have much time on this earth in the grand scheme of things. A mission helps us get focused so we can be good stewards of our life.

Here’s another sample mission statement, written anonymously:

To be humble.

To say thanks to God in some way, every day.

To never react to abuse by passing it on.

To find the self within that does and can look at all sides without loss.

I believe in treating all people with kindness and respect.

I believe by knowing what I value, I truly know what I want.

To be driven by values and beliefs.

I want to experience life’s passions with the newness of a child’s love, the sweetness and joy of young love, and the respect and reverence of mature love.

Finally, to go through life with a smile on my face and a twinkle in my eye.

The best missions are simple yet profound.  They impact the world and make it a better place for all of us.

This IS your mission… live it.

Enjoy this simple yet profound expression of a mission in action.